Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

If you haven’t been paying attention to whatever sad excuse for news that we have in this country, then let me enlighten you with what is going on. Not only has Warren Buffet refused to endorse us on LinkedIn, steel industry giants POSCO & ArcelorMittal have stopped believing our oft-broken promise to change our ways if they gave us one last chance and are now looking for an easier, much better looking country to invest all that money in. In fact, financial analysts say that these developments will have harsh consequences for our economy.

How did this happen? Till about a few years ago, we were like the shiny new shopping mall that opens up with huge fanfare. The sort of place everyone wants to go to all the time. The type of capitalist heaven where even small investments yield huge results. We were the centre of attention for a while! The consumers were glad to have so many options at their disposal and the businesses were glad to be able to tap a huge, underserviced market. And all the jobs were taken up by educated, pleasant sounding youngsters fresh out of college who were able to put their various talents to good use.

Nowadays, we’re like a sad, almost abandoned mall. The whole structure looks like it has lost its sheen. The paint is peeling off. The elevator has stopped working. All the investors with deep pockets have cut their losses and gone back to wherever they came from. Most shops are closing and the ones that are open are stocked with sub-standard products while most of the staff is surly and inefficient. Each set of empty lots is punctuated with an espresso bar selling cheap, undrinkable coffee. The only visitors are those who either have nowhere else to go or have no idea what they’re doing.

I, for one, am glad that all those people who get so spooked easily have decided to leave. We’re not the sort of country that does easy. No siree, Bob. Like that irritating commercial for that dry fruit infested chocolate says, you have to earn the ability to do business in this country. Who needs multi-national companies investing millions of dollars to create thousands of jobs anyway? Our political parties are already working overtime to increase the availability of jobs in this country by hiring hundreds of illiterate people to tweet on their behalf. That is all the stimulus that we need!

There was a song that Asha Bhosle sang with 90’s boyband Code Red. (This was a thing that happened. Asha Bhosle sang a song with a mildly popular, flash-in-the-pan British boyband and all of us collectively yawned and acted like it was the most normal thing to do. By giving her a pass on what should have been a serious blotch on a storied career, we made her believe that the song was something that she shouldn’t have been embarrassed about. Yes, kids, everyone was smoking some good shit in the 90’s. Even Asha Bhosle.) The song’s lyrics went something like We can make it if we try/We can make it you and I. The UPA seems to have adopted this as their theme song. They probably play it all day long at the Prime Minister’s office. Similarly, whenever we get bad news that could potentially harm the economy, they put their playlist of excuses on repeat, hoping that people will swallow their bullshit one more time.

Not that we could have a public discussion about this! Our current most popular topic of debate is a feud between two ‘leading’ economists. We’re not debating any of their theories, mind you. That would be the smart thing to do. But we didn’t drive out the British so that we could do sensible things! We drove them out so that we could f*ck up everything in our own way, because freedom. 

So, naturally, we’re discussing which of the above economists carries around a ModiBoner™ in their pants and which of them is a pinko commie socialist who wants to empty all the money in our treasury and give it to the poors. Overnight, people who wouldn’t know a demand curve if it punched them in the face were suddenly able to encapsulate a person’s body of work into a sixty word sentence. I can parse complex economic theory because I gave a stats exam that one time. The discussion is so stupid that every minute you spend thinking about it, you lose a couple of I.Q. points.

If our public discussion were a character in a movie, we would be at the scene where the actor portraying us looks in the mirror and sees the mess that he has turned himself into. Then he tries to turn his life around, seek forgiveness from all those he has inadvertently wronged, gaining the approval of the audience by the time the movie is over.

However, unlike the life of a movie protagonist, there doesn’t seem to be any hope for redemption in our collective future.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The CIA Ate my Homework

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

As we head towards the General Election from Hell, all the participants are working overtime to ensure that the ride is as nauseating as possible. From the trash talk between the political parties, the social media food fight between their supporters, to the issues that our news organizations imagine we are having a ‘national conversation’ about, we are really rich in things to feel embarrassed about.  In fact, the Met department predicts that we are in for a torrential downpour of stupidity and irregular dust storms of hypocritical behaviour.

Continuing his election blitzkrieg, three time ‘Gujarat Idol’ winner Narendra Modi recently gave a speech about education. One of the things he railed against was western education. Because that’s the problem with our education system! Not a system which lays more emphasis on learning rather that understanding. Not a curriculum that makes people literate instead of educated. Nope! Hey, Nalanda university was #1 in Time magazine’s list of ‘best universities to send whichever offspring of yours is designated to be a monk’ of 1197 A.D., so the only reason our education system is suffering now is because the CIA is eating our children’s homework and we’re not doing anything about it.

Seems like even the guy who highlights the ability of his state to attract foreign investment as one of his major achievements feels the need to vaguely blame ‘the west’ for our country’s woes.

Remember Edward Snowden? He is the whistleblower who revealed how the NSA is like a cute and hilarious LOLCAT because it is in your computer, watching you watch your porn. Well, he applied for asylum in India. That’s right. He left a country whose government illegally spies on its own citizens under the guise of national security and sought asylum in India. That is like leaving Canada to seek asylum in France because you don’t like to speak French.

The government gave such a swift reply to Snowden’s application that even Usain Bolt was jealous. The Indian embassy in Moscow didn’t have to wait for an official confirmation from the relevant authorities in New Delhi to know what to say. However, they still spent one hour pacing around their offices impatiently to pretend that they have ‘given the matter due consideration.’ In case you’re wondering, the answer to Snowden’s request was an emphatic ‘No,’ followed by the rhetorical question, “You Mad, Bro?” This wasn’t because Snowden made them work on a Sunday, but because the embassy officials are answerable to a government whose head treats the American President with the same reverence that farmers in UP treat their Zamindars. Yet this same government always blames any sort of citizen protests against it as being funded and encouraged by a mysterious ‘foreign hand,’ usually found hiding in the western hemisphere.

And then there are our leaders of regional parties. They rally against the use of the English language and oppose economic measures that would benefit the country by couching their opportunistic actions in banal declarations against the west. In fact, our socialist and communist leaders hate the west so much, that a majority of them send their children to study there. Want to turn our state capital into London but hate the west because something something neo-colonialism!

Somebody tell all these idiots that ‘the west’ is not some homogenous and monolithic entity that is united by a single aim: to cause our downfall. Whenever we have a public discussion about a problem we are facing, there will be some genius who will find out a way to blame the west.  Whether it is ‘western culture’ or ‘western education’ or ‘western media,’ they are always causing us some imaginary trouble. An all weather straw man for every belief system!

Most of the problems that we face in our country are not because there is a secret cabal of shady foreigners meeting every week to decide upon a new way to humiliate us and bring us down. It’s easier to blame outside entities for your problems because then you don’t have to introspect or take any responsibility for your actions. I’d try to do something, but what is the point when some foreign entity is going to swoop in and destroy whatever I’ve built.

Any elected official who uses this rhetoric as an excuse to not do anything should have his position taken away from him.

If only there was some sort of western import that allowed us to do that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Will the last person in India to get the death penalty remember to switch off the lights?

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

If you were to describe the love-hate relationship between India and China to a teenager with a short attention span (are there any other kind?) (No, I have nothing against teenagers! In fact, some of my best friends still act like one), you’d probably use the phrase ‘it’s complicated.’ We hate them for their belligerence, their efficiency and the amount of control the government has over the people. And we love them for their belligerence, their efficiency and the amount of control the government has over the people.

That’s right. We subconsciously admire them for the things we’re supposed to hate them for.

We might not like it whenever some of their troops defy the ‘sanctity’ of the border and cross over to our side making us resort to sly tactics like feeding them Chicken Manchurian or getting Aamir Khan and a bunch of rag-tag farmers to challenge them to a cricket match to get them to leave; but that is exactly what we’d like to do to our less powerful neighbours. If Pakistan didn’t have crazy leaders salivating to explode a nuclear weapon or Nepal didn’t have so many people watching the border or Bangladesh didn’t promise to send a million undocumented immigrants for every soldier that crosses over or Bhutan wasn’t so darn cute with its pointy roofs and that silly ‘happiness index,’ we’d be ‘peacefully invading’ them every now & then to ‘protect our interests.’

We get irritated when the Chinese flood our markets with their cheap products, but we really want to import their work ethic. Not that working conditions in this country are anything to boast about. Even in the worker’s paradise of Paschim Banga – where each child is legally obligated to be baptized in a cauldron full of communist dogma – the plight of the little guy is not something that many people lose sleep over. Hey, in China, even toddlers have a sixty hour work week. Do you really want us to be left behind?

And of course, there is the monitoring of all communication platforms and thought control which they do really well. Our ruling elite would like to order more portions of that, please. All they’re asking is that you give them a chance by not saying anything too critical about them in a public forum, no matter how truthful it is. Just stopping people from being a tattle tale, nothing else to see here! No one likes a snitch!

Recently, a ‘court’ in China sentenced their former railway minister to death. This was greeted with a lot of cheer in India. Most people must have been watching this episode of ‘Extreme Justice’ on a non-Onida device because they had a sudden relapse of neighbour’s envy. Why can’t we have laws like that? All we have to do is hold a session of a kangaroo court, find a scapegoat and give them a harsh sentence. Even if everyone else who was involved will be automatically exonerated, at least there will be some semblance of justice!

There seems to be a new found fondness for death penalty in this country. It has become a very popular solution for literally every problem. People are still wearing jeans made of corduroy? Kill them with the same cruelty that is usually reserved for a character in a George RR Martin novel.

This is a slippery slope. If we’re killing people who are corrupt, what about people who encourage them by acceding to their demands? If we start handing out the death penalty for every crime, then we’re all going to be dead soon. Will the last remaining person in India to be put on death row remember to switch off the lights? Look, there are other, much harsher forms of punishment that can be used to deter crime. For example: one way to punish the corrupt is to get them to spend as much time as it takes to get some sort of productive output from a government department without either threatening or bribing an employee.

We’ve even become okay with extra judicial killings by the police. Hey, that’s the world we live in! Those criminals don’t follow any laws, so why should we? The laws giving every accused their day in court are to make sure that the innocent are not punished for crimes they did not commit. Even though a lot of our serious criminals are able to manipulate the system and get away, we cannot solve our law and order problems by giving people the right to kill their fellow citizens as they deem fit. Shoot first and talk later is not how a country which values its laws is supposed to behave. We don’t live in a Bruce Willis movie. The laws that give even terrorists a set of rights are not there to protect them. They’re there to protect us, so that we don’t turn into them.

Remember that whole constitution ‘thingy’ that was made after a whole bunch of people spent over a hundred years fighting for our freedom so that things like arbitrarily killing people for perceived crimes against the state wouldn’t happen?

Yeah, we got rid of that. It was too tiresome!

Instead, we replaced it with a cheap imitation that was made in China.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Some Things Never Change

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

A long, long time ago, back in 2007, things were very different. The BJP was promising to provide strong, decisive leadership as the alternate to a UPA government riddled with coalition blues and governance problems. The American President was being criticized for illegally wiretapping American citizens while Hillary Clinton was expected to win the next Presidential election. Kevin Rudd wrested the office of the Prime Minister from an unpopular incumbent. Britain was being led by a slimy, unpopular Murdoch crony. And the world of cricket was hit with a betting scandal and administrators swore that something like that would never happen again.

Let’s not forget that it was also the year when wall street brought the global financial system to the brink of collapse. The resulting economic backlash was so bad that most countries are still feeling the after-effects of that tsunami. One would imagine that people who screwed up so royally that we were on the verge of re-establishing the barter system as the standard for exchange of goods and services would have stopped to consider the suffering their actions wrought upon the world and would try not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Seems like the perfect opportunity for people’s elected representatives and enforcement officials to make themselves useful and constitute and enforce laws that would make it impossible for the viability of every currency note in the world to depend upon the ability of recovering addict and extraordinary air guitarist Jimmy Ray Jones from Bumf**k, Idaho to fulfil his financial obligations.

“LOL.” If you believe that there is even a remote possibility of something like that happening, then you must still believe in the existence of Santa Claus, millionaire sons of deposed Nigerian princes and Clint Eastwood. Not only have the people responsible for the worst stock market crash since the great depression escaped punishment with a strongly worded gesture, but they continue to do business the same way as before.

In this fortnight’s Rolling Stone, journalist Matt Taibbi revealed how the ratings agencies who played a major part in ushering the crash by providing whatever ratings the offending banks wanted for their financial instruments – most of which they filled with junk investments - in lieu of money. Proving, yet again, that the global finance industry is one huge circle-jerk between the bankers, the people who’re supposed to regulate them, the ‘industry experts’ and the rating agencies.

In the report, many current and former employees of the rating agencies have gone on record - in depositions and/or emails obtained by the magazine - to admit that they were basically making up the numbers so as to be able to provide their clients with whatever rating they preferred for their financial instruments. That’s because they make most of their money from the companies who sell these instruments. That’s like asking students to mark their own exam sheet. Yet, these very agencies like to dictate the economic policies of governments around the world. Comply with what we say or your sovereign rating gets it. Talk about the emperor having no clothes!

These are the charlatans that the people elected to make economic decisions on our behalf seek validation from. I’m just spit-balling here, but maybe it isn’t a good idea to subjugate your country’s economic policies to the whims and fancies of an agency which gave its highest honour (an AAA rating) to a bank whose collapse one month later wiped out about five trillion dollars from the global economy?

In fact, the people running our economy keep harping about achieving eight percent growth, a claim that is as fraudulent as a report by an analyst working for a ratings agency. But they keep pretending that it’s the only solution to all our problems. A little blue pill that will stir our impotent economy back into action. Although, to be fair, if your economic growth lasts for more than four hours, you don’t need to call a doctor.

Economic theory suggests that the ‘invisible hand of the market’ always brings about a happy ending by balancing things out. That hand is now a hundred percent subsidiary of wall street.

And if you look carefully, it’s giving you the finger.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

No Country for Bold Men

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

If you’re a man of the world, you probably would have noticed that we’ve become a country that is losing its morals. Our children have been corrupted by the liberal media which in turn is being aided and abetted by dangerous foreign intelligence agencies whose sole aim of existence is to destroy our superior way of life. Also, don’t call me sexist, but the fact of the matter is that women don’t notice these things because they have all that make-up in their eyes. Therefore, it’s up to the all good, moral, upstanding male citizens of the country to uphold our traditions and stop the country from turning into the worst nightmare of our idol and mascot, Alok Nath.

We must remember that the enemy is smart and will try to seduce us into joining its ranks with things like ‘facts’ and ‘logic.’ However, we must pay no heed to such temptations and persist in our battle to bring back our country’s glorious days, so as to be able to finally make this India’s century. The problem is, nowadays, anyone who even tries to speak the truth gets shouted down by the droids of the liberal media, without even being given a chance to explain themselves. Recently, when - India’s premier ‘Shock Jock’ and man who was never hugged as a child because his parents thought withholding such useless niceties helps build character - Subramanian Swamy talked about the country’s gay citizens in a hateful manner, there was a lot of scorn heaped upon him. This is what our country has become! You can’t even dehumanize millions of people without being referred to as a ‘hater.’

What people don’t understand is that unlike homosexuality, being a hater is a choice. It’s an addiction. It’s like eating the whole cake that you  baked for the big party tomorrow even though you promised yourself that you would just have one piece. For a hater, every piece of cake represents a percentage of the population. You start with hating one group until you end up hating everybody. You keep telling yourself that you can stop anytime you want to, but finding a new group of people to detest for no discernible reason is the dragon you keep trying to chase.

* * *

Now, even though I personally find any human interaction outside of the bare minimum required to survive on this planet quite repellent, I do realize that not everyone is lucky enough to find companionship and fulfilment with a bottle of Jack Daniels. I get that there are some among us who possess an inexplicable need for human interaction. Some people even decide to voluntarily cohabitate with other like-minded individual(s). Whatever helps you sleep at night, buddy. I don’t judge! 

Nevertheless, I do judge those miserable individuals who make it their life’s work to spread some misery around by making life difficult for those who they consider to be different. Especially in our country where ‘tradition’ has become code for discrimination and ‘being orthodox’ is code for ‘people who are angry with the modern world and yearn for a time when their fear of the other was the law of the land.’

Most of the time, the reluctance of some people to accept same-sex relationships stems from them being afraid that it will encourage their own children to “choose that lifestyle.”  Their ignorance and bigotry is couched as concern for their children. All I want is for my children to be happy! No you don’t! All you want to do is make yourself happy. If you really cared for your child, you wouldn’t be forcing them to pretend to be someone they’re not. You’re okay with your offspring living with the same denial as you do because you feel embarrassed admitting to some stranger that your child does not resemble other people’s cookie-cutter children in any way.

The worst offenders, of course, are those who purport to be down with equal rights but make it all about themselves. They see other people as a one-dimensional construct and their support is tenuous and patronizing. What sort of gay man are you that you can’t even differentiate between ghost white and ivory? Did they make you leave your hometown in the North-East because you don’t play guitar? What self-respecting Punjabi doesn’t do the bhangra at a wedding?

This week, as we celebrate the fourth anniversary of the landmark judgement of the Delhi High Court that decriminalized human behaviour, we should remind ourselves that we still have a long way to go before we are able to achieve equality for all our citizens. This has been a banner year for gay rights throughout the world. Anytime a marginalized group of citizens are able to carve a space for themselves and make their life a little better, it is a victory for all of us. It means that we’re actually evolving into a better society, despite our best efforts to achieve the contrary.

Until, of course, the combination of quakes, tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters wipe out the human race from the face of the earth. .

Then we start again from scratch.